Minor league camp started this week for the Pittsburgh Pirates. We’re still a little less than two weeks away from actual games being played, and not everyone has reported to camp yet, with the final reporting days coming in the next week or two. But seeing the minor leaguers back in action is a good thing, especially since there is nothing to write about at all in Major League camp. To give a preview of what to expect this Spring, here is a list of five of the biggest topics I’ll be watching for as camp continues at Pirate City.

1. Who are the breakout candidates?

This is the big question every year. It’s also a topic where I can never really force an answer. The process is as simple as going out and watching the minor league players each day. I’m not looking for who the breakout player might be. I usually find my breakout players by “appointment viewing,” which means after a week or two of watching that player, I’ll seek out his schedule and see when he might be taking batting practice or throwing a bullpen. Or I’ll see him in a game, and won’t take a second thought about stopping to watch him.

The last few years it has been difficult to come up with real “sleepers” since the Pirates have many tiers of sleepers. For example, Austin Meadows is a well-known prospect, and makes a lot of top 100 prospect lists. But I could see him having a breakout year that would make him one of the top prospects in the game. Meanwhile, there might be other players who have breakout seasons that just put them on the map as top prospects. In either case, this is going to be one thing I’ll be focusing on, just because that goes with the territory of seeing who is improving and who is declining.

2. Austin Meadows and the Lower Level Outfielders

Speaking of Austin Meadows, I wrote during the pre-season that he could shape the lower level outfields, depending on whether he goes to Bradenton or West Virginia. When I talked to Larry Broadway this week, he said Meadows has a chance to go to Bradenton at some point this year. However, right now nothing is set on where he will start off.

Currently, Bradenton has Barrett Barnes, Raul Fortunato, Taylor Lewis, Justin Maffei, Jeff Roy, and Wes Freeman battling for outfield spots. Barnes is the only sure bet to make the team. West Virginia has Jordan Luplow, Harold Ramirez, Kevin Krause, Jerrick Suiter, Michael Suchy, Elvis Escobar, and Carl Anderson as outfield options. Luplow and Ramirez are locks for the spot. Krause will likely get time behind the plate in addition to right field. Suiter, Suchy, and Escobar aren’t top prospects, but are interesting enough that you’d want to give them a shot.

The Pirates could get creative here by giving Luplow an aggressive push, or by promoting Ramirez over Meadows, since both players are in similar situations. They could also send Krause up to be a full-time right fielder, although he has been getting work with the catchers, so I don’t see this happening at the moment. Sending Meadows to Bradenton would make things a lot easier, although even if that happens, the Pirates will have a lot of interesting outfielders splitting time at West Virginia. If Meadows stays in West Virginia to start the year, then you’ve got a lot of guys who won’t be playing at all.

3. Reese McGuire and the Lower Level Catchers

Just like the situation with Meadows, there is a catcher log jam in the lower levels. The Pirates had this last year, and solved it by giving Jin-De Jhang an aggressive promotion to Bradenton, and moving Wyatt Mathisen to third base. Jhang didn’t handle the promotion well, making it unlikely that he moves up to Altoona. The Pirates drafted Taylor Gushue and Kevin Krause in the top ten rounds last year, and both will likely get time in West Virginia. Connor Joe was said to get time at catcher, although he’s only going to be working in the infield at first and third right now.

Reese McGuire complicates things. He’s the top catching prospect, which means no matter where he goes, he will be getting the bulk of the playing time. He didn’t have the best offensive numbers last year, making it possible that he will return to West Virginia. However, that scenario creates some problems.

The fact that Joe is out of the picture makes it a little easier to shuffle the lower level catchers. Jhang will go to Bradenton, and Gushue will go to West Virginia due to his age. That means if you send McGuire to West Virginia, then Krause would go to Bradenton (which also helps the outfield situation in West Virginia). But McGuire in West Virginia means that Gushue would get no playing time, which would be unfortunate, because he looks like a very intriguing catching prospect, and possibly the second best of the group.

Sending McGuire to Bradenton makes all the sense in the world. It would cut into Jhang’s playing time behind the plate, but that’s a better alternative to cutting down Gushue’s playing time.

4. The Future at First Base

Josh Bell made the switch to first base this off-season, and instantly becomes the best first base prospect in the system, and the first baseman of the future. While the Pirates are looking forward to Bell at first, there are other guys who could step up with good performances. They just need to fix certain parts of their game. Stetson Allie has some of the best power in the system, but needs to cut down on the strikeouts in order to have a shot at the majors. Jose Osuna has good potential at the plate, but might find it difficult to get playing time at first, since he projects to be at the same level as Bell. Edwin Espinal should make the jump to Bradenton, and has a ton of raw power, but that hasn’t fully translated to the plate. Connor Joe should get time at first base, and will get his first opportunity to show off the bat that the Pirates loved so much in the draft last year.

Bell is the top option, and so far he’s looking good. But it will be interesting to see who else might step up to give the Pirates additional options.

5. Fallout From the Major League Cuts

In a typical year, the MLB roster cuts would impact who might play in Triple-A, and will bump some guys down to Altoona. I profiled the rosters for Indianapolis and Altoona, noting that there shouldn’t be many surprises. That’s because there aren’t many surprises projected out of Major League camp, which allows us to project the minor league rosters fairly accurately.

That’s not to say there will be no surprises. For example, I don’t expect Pedro Florimon to make the active roster, but I also don’t expect him to clear waivers. If he does, then that would cause the Pirates to shuffle the infield spots at the top two levels. If Andrew Lambo doesn’t make the club, it might impact first base and the outfield. And the pitching staff with Indianapolis could be impacted by which NRI pitcher does the best, especially since Brandon Cumpton’s injury will likely leave a spot open in the rotation.

**We have about 100 paperback books of the 2015 Prospect Guide remaining from the most recent shipment. We’ve already sold more than last year’s total, and I don’t anticipate ordering another shipment this year. That means once the current batch is gone, the hard copy version will be sold out. You can order your copy of the book on the products page of the site.

**Every day I upload content on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and the video features on YouTube. Be sure that you’re subscribed to all of those sites to follow everything we upload throughout Spring Training (there is different content for each social media site).

**Q&A: Will Jung-Ho Kang’s Presence Create Issues In The Pirates Dugout? The short answer, no.

**Glasnow Dominates Upper Level Hitters In Spring Debut; Morton Shows Some Rust. A link from yesterday, looking at Tyler Glasnow’s impressive Spring Training debut.

**Austin Meadows Lowered His Hand Position To Add More Power. Video feature from yesterday, looking at the adjustments Meadows is making to get more power.

**Willy Garcia Has Some Of The Best Power In The System, But One Thing Holds Him Back. Today’s video feature looks at a guy who had power, but needs an adjustment to allow that power to play in the majors.

**See How Josh Bell Is Doing In His Move To First Base. A short clip of his defense at the position.

**Talking Pirates Minor League Spring Training With David Todd And Ken Laird. Podcasts from two radio interviews I did recently.

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25 COMMENTS

  1. Break out candidates in 2015?

    As for positional players, here are my top three break-out candidates (I deliberately excluded the top 20 prospects in the system, since they are already well known and established top prospects):

    (1) Barrett Barnes – If he is healthy – 2015 is a very important year for him.
    (2) Raul Siri – was impressive last year
    (3) Eric Wood – my sleeper….seems like he has all the tools, just needs to put it together

  2. These articles remind me of the abbot and costello skit, in a good way. Thanks tim for making what usally reads like a reference book enjoyable.

  3. Really! He becomes the BEST first base prospect in the system- WOW! Are you helping his stock to trade him or is this an early April fools joke? You are the one who showed the video and I have been out to see them workout-both big league and minor league. I will use a familiar phrase “comon man”- did we trade Stetson Allie, Andrew Lambo etc. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves- he is a work in progress at best. Time and reps but, best first base prospect- “you are way off”
    It is not even fair to Josh Bell- any one knows baseball can see he is not even close.

    • Bell is the best first base prospect in the system! He’s nationally rated the highest 1B prospect in our system. He may be learning first base, but his bat is rated better than any other prospect we have. Are you seriously putting Allie ahead of him? That’s nuts!

      • Allie needs to find a way to lower that strikeout percentage of 31% to be taken seriously as a possible MLB caliber hitter. Bell OTOH is around 12%. He is just starting to work on defense as a 1B and shows it, but being rough around the edges was expected. Lambo had the same problems; Allie was an IF (3B) before being drafted so the learning curve to 1B was very minor.

        • Tim Williams putting that stuff in your head! You truly think the top brass gives a crap if these guys go out an hit 20 plus HR’s and strikeout? The game has changed! Mike Trout- he struck out a few times- MVP! Power numbers were there! it is a baseball trade-off

          • In 2014 in AA, Allie struck out 127 times in 407 at bats.
            In 2011 in AA, Trout struck out 76 times in 357 at bats.

            Trout never struck out more than 100 times in any minor league season, Allie has done it twice in a row with no signs of slowing greatly. So by that comparison and stats, Allie is gonna strike out about 300 times a season in the majors. Buts its okay, he’ll hit 20 HRs.

            Yeah, at times you trade off power for some swing and miss stuff. but the game has become stupid where its all about HRs and who cares if ya K 200 times, particularly because those guys tend to have crazy variance in the total HR number year to year. Most of all, PIT clearly doesnt value HR as high as other abilities, since it costs the most and is the most overvalued. PIT has been able to be a top third HR hitting team without a ton of guys that hit more than 20ish.

            • Their young and it is a developmental process. Hey Luke, I didn’t see you mention that his plate patience has improved and he has lead the organization in walks. Give the kid a little probes. Your holding minor league stats as the mean all- doesn’t always paint the end all product-development. Would you want a Willy Garcia? You take away a tough May in his AA season- I heard he was playing thru some injuries/health issue and he could of had some impressive numbers in AA. Remember it was only his second year as a position player- Pirates are being very aggressive with him. Allie is not going to strike out 300 times! For most organizations, they’ll take 20+ today!

              • Yeah, he is young and still developing. The point of the argument is that acting like a kid striking out 30% of the time in AA is the best at their spot isnt solid, because you cant K at that rate and expect to not struggle as you increase levels. Its not a white and black thing where “he is good” or “he isnt good”. He has solid parts of his game that are useful, but right now that K rate is something that can easily keep him from being a starter in the bigs, and its a key sign for many players and their future success.

                I think he can be a useful ML player, but not at his current rate of striking out. Even with his walk rate, ML pitching and him arent close to being ready for one another.

                  • Fair enough, but i see no trend in his K rate getting better. In fact, adjusted for playing time his BB rate really isnt that much better, since 2012 saw him walk 21 times in 150 at bats. 2013 saw him walk 77 times in 480 at bats. Assuming his walk rate was constant in 2012, had he gotten 480 at bats he’s looking at around 63-70 walks. Better rate, but slight. Same for the following year, with better BB rate but against incremental.

                    The K rate is the key though, and its true of every player in the minors. You cant carry a 30% K rate up to AAA and expect great things if a team calls you up. As a i look at him right now, he compares as a less capable Garret Jones. Slightly higher K rate in the minors, slightly less power more years than not. A guy who profiles as, giving him benefit of the doubt on progression, a 20-25 HR guy with 150+ Ks and a middling average isnt nothing, but it isnt great. Surely not better than the projection for guys like Bell, whose power has been less consistent but the other parts of his game are much better.

        • If Allie just bunts everything, his strikeout total will go way down. However, it will have an inverse impact on all of his other stats in a negative direction.

          • What were you former rec ball draft pick? Use the site with some baseball intelligence not stupid humor! There is a place for you- recball.com

      • Your NUTS believing that kind of stuff! BAT-BAT-BAT, where has that been. There is a profile for first baseman- POWER! I am serious, yes. I am tired of hearing about him being the best first base prospect- earn it! Prove it between the lines!

        • Bell had an .896 OPS last season in Bradenton, leading the league in hitting before being promoted to AA. As a 22-year old who has seen his development side tracked due to injury and position change, I’m pretty sure the Pirates are pleased with how Bell is coming along.

          And who in their right mind would prefer a 30 HR player who strikes out 30% of the time compared to a .330/.385/.475 hitter who strikes out 12% of the time? Even if he only hits half as many dingers.

          • A lot of organizations pal! You obviously are not up with the way the game is today! Power is at a premium and it is not easy to find. The kid hasn’t hit any of your so called “dingers” in a long time- now at a first base profile. We’ll see when he has a full season of AA. Ask the Pirates about him not coming in early! I’m sure they were real pleased about that. I certainly would have posted early if, I were in a position change as he is.Ranking! Money talks in that game.

        • You’re alone on that island. I believe he did prove his “prospect” status last year. MLB.com ranked him in their top 50 prospects and in their top 10 1B prospects. Bell is a year younger than Allie and 4 yrs younger than Lambo. If all you want is home runs and strike outs, we can just stick with Pedro. He has more power than Allie.

          • You know that is an absolute joke! Rating a guy that has not played that position in a regular season-minor league game. Did they see him in AFL? Guess not!

  4. What you described is the direct result of positive results in selecting quality players, and having an excellent developmental program. The Pirates are going to have to start releasing some quality players who have aged up in order to make room for new groups coming into the organization. Meadows and McGuire need to be at Hi A Bradenton. Bell only had 90+ AB’s in AA last year, so he could probably start the year at AA Altoona. Diaz definitely needs to be our starting Catcher at AAA, and Alen Hanson to be our leadoff and 2B at AAA. Mel Rojas, Jr. should start at AAA unless he makes the Pirates as the 25th man, which I think is a real possibility.

    Sleepers – Jaff Decker is pushing his way into consideration, and Arquimedes Caminero, who supposedly has a legit 100 mph fastball, threw 10 pitches for 10 strikes and struck out the side last night against the Yankees. I wonder what his velocity and command looked like?

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